Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piano Music
Jacques Rouvier (piano)
Théodore Paraskivesco (piano: Ma Mère l’Oye)
rec. 1974/75, France
INDÉSENS CALLIOPE CAL1521 [68:50 + 73:48]
The back cover of this reissue says, “The complete works of Ravel by Jacques Rouvier is among the best achievements in the history of French recordings, and is one of the greatest interpretations of a pianist ever.” That’s a bold claim to make. Does it hold up? Do these recordings from the 1970s stand as one of the greatest interpretations ever?

Well, no. For starters, this is not the “complete piano music”. Ravel had published his arrangement of a suite from Daphnis et Chloé, but nobody thought to record it until very recently. La Valse can be performed with one or two pianists, but is not here. There are also a couple of tiny one-minute sketches, recorded by pianists like Alexandre Tharaud and Florian Uhlig. Don’t blame Rouvier, however, for omitting La Parade; that’s a more recent discovery from the composer’s student years.

That all is okay. Only one truly “complete” cycle exists (Uhlig’s); artistry is more important. Rouvier’s interpretations are not all consistent. His style is, for the most part, straightforward, nostalgia-free and with a preference for boldness over delicacy. The Sonatine’s finale is a virtuoso whirlwind; the first two movements of Miroirs are speedy and direct; “Scarbo” is a blistering performance, one of the greats. Ravel did not like the slow, over-emotional way that many performers romanticized the Pavane; Ravel would approve of Rouvier here.

On the other hand, Rouvier slows down for the first two movements of Gaspard, very successfully. “Le Gibet” is especially haunting. His performance is similar in style to the recent one by Steven Osborne. Le Tombeau de Couperin is less of a hit. He has trouble with the first movement’s fiendish rhythms and hectic pace. Some of the middle portions, meanwhile, lose momentum, and Le Tombeau as a whole lacks the classical precision and polish of Abbey Simon or Michael Endres. Indeed, quite often in the set, Jacques Rouvier chooses an approach similar to Abbey Simon’s, and then leaves out a tiny extra bit of colour or virtuosity.

There’s a very happy bonus in the two-piano suite from Mother Goose, where Rouvier partners with Theodore Paraskivesco. There may be no name in classical music history more fun to say over and over again than “Paraskivesco”. Rouvier also adds a charming Habanera. The earlier Calliope release of this set, which hit the market about a decade ago, also contained works by Debussy, but those have been removed.

The recordings are newly re-mastered from original sessions in 1974-5. The piano sounds a little bright, and there are funny inconsistencies in acoustic: the Habanera’s two hands sound like two different pianos, while other performances are in a cleaner studio space. While Jacques Rouvier’s Ravel may not be “one of the greatest interpretations of a pianist ever”, it is a good set, frequently excellent. If you’re interested, try to find the older release on Calliope, with the Debussy bonus. It is not, however, re-mastered. This is not my first choice for Ravel’s piano music, but if you love the music as much as I do, and collect as many recordings as I do, you’ll find much to appreciate here.

Brian Reinhart

Contents List

CD 1 [68:50]
Ma Mère l’Oye [14:22]
Habanera [2:34]
Gaspard de la nuit [23:13]
Pavane pour une infante défunte [5:47]
Jeux d’eau [5:51]
Menuet sur le nom de Haydn [1:45]
Valses nobles et sentimentales [15:18]

CD 2 [73:48]
Miroirs [26:48]
Sonatine [11:16]
Le Tombeau de Couperin [25:09]
Prélude (1913) [1:20]
A la manière de Borodine [1:33]
A la manière de Chabrier [1:55]
Menuet antique [5:48]

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